This is my last Monday Morning Quarterback column for the Sports Illustrated franchise, and for the site I founded in 2013, The MMQB. I’ve been thinking about what to write and how to do it for the last couple of weeks. I just kept thinking, What I really want to do is thank people.
• Thank you, readers. The way I figure it: I’ve produced about 5.5 million words since 1989—my rough guess is about 4 million words in 21 years of MMQB columns, and about 1.5 million words in the magazine and for The MMQB. In the last couple of weeks, since I announced I’d be leaving this place on June 1, so many of you have reached out to say thanks. I’m humbled. I’m appreciative. There would be no me without you. Last week, a 30-ish guy on the 3 train on the west side of Manhattan said to me, “I’ve read you since I knew what football was. Thanks for everything.” SI’s reach and influence made that possible. We were good for each other.
• Thank you, Mark Mulvoy. In 1989, as managing editor of SI, Mulvoy put his trust in a 31-year-old guy who’d covered the NFL for just five years to write the Inside the NFL column for the magazine. Four months after he hired me, Mulvoy sent me to Philadelphia for the 49ers-Eagles game in September, to do some research on a future 49ers-after-Bill Walsh story. Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and Mulvoy called me in the press box and said, “You may be writing live,” and when I got back up from the locker room, he called and said, “You’re writing.” And a couple hours later he called and said, “You better have something good—you’ve got the cover.” JOLTIN’ JOE, with Montana on the cover in a classic passer’s pose, and my prose, showed up in 3.1 million American mailboxes four days later.
• Thank you, Eddie DeBartolo, for doing what I never knew owners did—in this case, leaping into Ronnie Lott’s arms as the clock ran out that afternoon at the Vet and yelling, “I LOVE YOU RONNIE!” DeBartolo wiped away tears as he told me how he loved this team. I’d see a lot more of that in the coming years.
• Thank you to Mulvoy and successors John Papanek, Bill Colson, Terry McDonell, Paul Fichtenbaum and Chris Stone, for giving me nothing but chances for 29 years. McDonell saw the potential in the wild west world known as the internet, Fichtenbaum handed me the reins to the microsite we christened The MMQB (with a salary cap to hire the people I wanted), and Stone never said no to anything important in the final few years. In a time of increasingly strangled budgets, all were progressive leaders.
• Thank you, Michael Irvin. “We’re playing in a Sports Illustrated game!” he shouted when I showed up in Texas during the week of a big game in 1991, when the Cowboys started to get good. That Friday afternoon, Irvin said he’d sit for an interview with me, but not at Valley Ranch. We got in his car, and he took me to a strip club, where we talked for an hour. Great interview. Interesting scenery.
• Thank you, Jimmy Johnson. For a lot of things. He’s as transparent a coach as I’ve covered in my 29 SI years. The first time we talked extensively, at a seafood place in San Diego in training camp in 1990, Johnson spoke about the pain of his 1-15 rookie season, and he was so candid about how much it sucked that at the end of the evening, perhaps emboldened by four or six Heinekens, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Peter, if you f--- me with this story, I’ll squash you like a squirrel in the road.” When the Cowboys got good, he was always available. Johnson welcomed me on a pre-draft scouting trip in 1991 on Jerry Jones’s plane, opening up the real reason why the Cowboys were so good in the draft in those days. He and his minions—Butch Davis, as I recall, was a particularly good campus sleuth—found out which prospects were clean and, more importantly, which ones were not, hopscotching America in the owner’s plane. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. On that trip, a can of Paul Mitchell Freeze ’N Spray Shine hair spray went rolling down the aisle of the plane. All Johnson could do was laugh.
• Thank you, Steve Tasker, the most decent great player I have covered.
• Thank you, Frank Reich, for the 41-38 comeback to beat Houston in the wild-card playoff game in 1992. Talk about memorable—a backup quarterback erasing a 35-3 lead and winning a playoff game. I recently told Reich the story about the Houston TV guy—when it was 28-3, Oilers, at halftime—who made the nonrefundable airplane reservation for the next week, the next game, at Pittsburgh. It got to be 35-3 on a bad Reich pick-six in the third quarter, but all he kept thinking about was, “Just one play.” The Bills won in overtime. I waited for everyone to leave the locker room until it was just me and Reich left, talking about the greatest game of a backup quarterback’s life. He called over an equipment man, wanting to see his wife, and said, “Could you bring Linda in?” And when the door to the locker room opened, they hustled to embrace like they hadn’t seen each other in five years. “I love you,” Linda said, and I bet 15 seconds passed before he said anything. “Praise the Lord,” were Frank Reich’s words. That was a moment.
• Thank you, Paul Zimmerman, a friend and a mentor and someone wholly opposite of me. You’re a brawler, a prove-it guy; I’m a peacenik, and my instinct is to trust. He was a crank, oftentimes a total crank. He’s not for everybody. But he was great for me. He taught me so much. One: Talk to the offensive linemen; there won’t be crowds around them, and they know why everything happens. Two: Avoid the crowds; get your own stuff. Three: Make people earn your trust. Four: Make your own decisions. Forget what others say or write. As you try to find peace in New Jersey a decade after your series of strokes, please know how many people say to me monthly, weekly: “How is Dr. Z? Tell him we miss him.”
• Thank you, Linda Zimmerman, for showing me—and so many others—what a loving and loyal and trusted-till-death spouse and partner is.
• Thank you, Deion Sanders. You know what I feel bad about? Not that he and I were once close and I wrote some stuff that royally pissed him off and we didn’t speak for, oh, maybe 10 years. (When times were good, I had his get-through-the-switchboard-at-road-hotels name, which was a tremendous gateway pseudonym to have in those days.) No—I feel bad that Young America doesn’t know what an incredible story and player Sanders was a quarter-century ago. In August 1992 he was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Falcons, but he wanted it all. That summer he was a starting outfielder for the Braves, one of the best teams in baseball, and invited me up to his 19th-floor room in Pittsburgh after taking an 0-for-4 collar against Tim Wakefield. We talked about the big decision he had to make. The Braves would take him as a job-share guy; the Falcons wanted all of him. When I knocked at his door, he greeted me, shirtless, glistening with sweat, bat in hand. He’d been taking swings in front of the mirror in the room, desperate to get out of a mini-slump.
Just so people know. In 1992, Sanders:
• Homered off Orel Hershiser and David Cone during the regular season.
• Returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Washington in September.
• Hit .304 with 14 triples and 26 stolen bases in 97 games for Atlanta.
• Had a .588 on-base percentage in four World Series starts against Toronto in October.
• Intercepted two passes against in a game against the Patriots in November.
• Returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown against Tampa in December.
We met at the Super Bowl this past February, and he told me: “Football was my heart. I adored it. Baseball was my challenge. I don’t know if I loved it. I liked it. I wasn’t married to it. Football was my wife. Baseball was my girlfriend. I wish it would have been the opposite. There are chapters in our lives we feel are incomplete. You know, coulda, woulda, shoulda. I still have baseball dreams.”
• Thank you, Steve Young, for being the all-time mensch. He walked into an impossible situation—the Man Who Would Succeed Montana—and walked on eggshells for a time as he had to and handled it perfectly. Then he threw six touchdown passes, post-Montana and post-Bill Walsh, to win a world title in Miami in 1995. I covered Young postgame, and he was so dehydrated that he had to lie down in Miami hotel room and get two IVs from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue unit while family partied in his room. “Joe Who?!” someone in the crowd yelled. Young had the decency to call out, feebly, from the bed: “No, don’t do that. Don’t worry about that. That’s the past.” That’s class.
• Thank you, Brent Musburger, for saying this to me on my first night on TV, before the ABC Monday Night Football halftime show in a New York studio in September 1994 (I did a couple of minutes at halftime in the ’94 and ’95 seasons): “Don’t worry kid. I’ll take care of you.” He did. Every show.
• Thank you, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, for letting me invade your space in Green Bay in 1995 for a week in the life of the Packers. That was one of the all-time enlightening experiences, complete with Brett Favre farting through team meetings (more about Favre in a moment) and a tremendous education in how a game plan is put together.
• Thank you, Steve Robinson, for urging me to start Monday Morning Quarterback at the new website CNNSI.com in 1997. That’s the year I got an email address. That’s how first-generation the internet was then. As my pro football editor for a couple of years before that, and then kicked upstairs to run this newfangled web thingie, Robinson needed copy to populate the site. Personalize it, he said. So I did. And thanks to my other web editors and checkers—wordsmith Stefanie Kaufman (as fine an editor and conscience as I had at the magazine), Chad Millman (yes, that Chad Millman, a fresh-faced IU grad), Andrew Perloff, Bobby Clay and now Dom Bonvissuto—for preventing more errors than Ozzie Smith over the years. Dom, especially, has been the keeper of the flame on so many ridiculously late Sunday nights and early Monday mornings in the last 10 years. He’s tireless and smart. I can’t thank all of them enough.
• Thank you, Brett Favre, for being the most compelling person I’ve covered in my 29 years here. This could take a while. In that ’95 week in Green Bay, when I met Favre, he said, “What? Nothing to write about [Drew] Bledsoe this week?” A jab on the media’s love of the New England quarterback. That week, Holmgren told the Packers that I’d be hanging around, and to give me time if I asked. When I asked Favre if I could come to his house one evening, it became three nights in one week.
So … what I found interesting was his tirelessness. I’d be there at 10, 10:30 at night, and I’d be nodding off after a long day, and he was buzzing. Turns out a few months later we knew the reason for the buzzing. He spent 72 days in a drug clinic in Kansas City to get off Vicodin. This weekend, we talked about that, and about the end in Green Bay, and I found out something I never knew: I thought he went to rehab to kick his addictions once. Triple that.
“Oh, I remember that week,” Favre said over the phone. “You thought, ‘Man, this guy’s high on life.’ You didn’t know there was a reason for it. It is really amazing, as I think back, how well I played that year. That was an MVP year for me. But that year, when I woke up in the morning, my first thought was, ‘I gotta get more pills.’ I took 14 Vicodin, yes, one time. I was getting an hour or two of sleep many nights. Maybe 30 minutes of quality sleep. I was the MVP on a pain-pill buzz. The crazy thing was, I’m not a night owl. Without pills I’d fall asleep at 9:30. But with pills, I could get so much done, I just figured, ‘This is awesome.’ Little did I know [fiancée and now wife] Deanna would be finding some of my pills and when she did, she’d flush them down the toilet.
“I actually went to rehab three times. I saw the most successful, smart people—doctors, professional people—lose it all, ruin their lives. A year or two before you saw me, I went to a place in Rayville, La., just outside Monroe. It was pills then too. Deanna and [agent] Bus [Cook] talked me into it. I didn’t think I had a problem, but they talked me into it. I went for 28 days. When I got out, I was able to control myself for a while. I wouldn’t take anything for a day or two, and I wouldn’t drink. But I was a binge drinker. When I drank, I drank to excess. So when I went in the second time, to the place in Kansas, I remember vividly fighting them in there. They said drinking was the gateway drug for me, and they were right, absolutely right, but I wouldn’t admit it. I will never forget one of the nurses. I had it all figured out. I fought with this nurse all the time. I would not admit the drinking problem. At the end she said to me, ‘You’ll be back.’
“I was back. 1998. Guess who was waiting there when I walked in—that same nurse. This time it was strictly for drinking. I didn’t go back to the pills. I admitted my problem, I was in there 28 days, and it worked. When I got out, the toughest thing was the first three months, because I had to change my thought process. When I played golf before, I realized the only reason I wanted to play was to drink. After a while, instead of thinking, ‘How many beers can we drink in 18 holes?’ I fell into a pattern of what could I do to get good at golf. I realized with each passing day I really didn’t like drinking.”
Never thought the conversation would go this way. But that’s Favre. One time, for 90 minutes, we talked Slingblade.” He’d seen the movie once. He knew complete paragraphs of dialog, in that Billy Bob Thornton voice. No wonder Holmgren never worried about Favre learning plays. He had a ridiculous memory.
One more story. Favre did a charity bike ride for Bo Jackson at Auburn, and retired Auburn football coach Pat Dye insisted Favre stay at Dye’s house. Dye took Favre for a house tour. He saw all the trophies and framed pictures, and listened to Dye tell his stories. When the 78-year-old Dye showed him the memorabilia, he said, “Here’s the stuff that really doesn’t matter.”
Favre said to me on Saturday night: “And it hit me. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’m gonna be 78 years old, and the crowd’s not going to be cheering anymore. The roar of the stadium will be long gone. Hopefully, like Pat, I’ll go out and plant a Japanese maple on my property and just live life. Talk to my family, my friends. That was a moment, with Pat, where I thought, ‘So that’s what it’s going to be like.’ And it’s good.”
• Thank you, critics. If we can’t take the heat in this modern-media business, and if we can’t admit our mistakes, we should get out.
• Thank you, all who did not want me to write about my personal life in my column. Your voices were heard. Ultimately, I did what I thought was best for the column and wrote about Montclair (N.J.) field hockey and softball, about my daughters in those games for five years, about coffee and beer, about the lives and deaths of my brothers Bob and Ken, about the lives and deaths of Woody and Bailey the Goldens, about politics, about the Red Sox, about my daughter Laura’s wedding to wife Kim, about our grandson Freddy. This is how I figured it over the years: Probably 5 to 10 percent of each column, at most, is the non-football stuff. The column is the longest pro football column on the internet, by far. If you skip over the non-football stuff, it’s still the longest football column on the internet, by far. So just skip what you don’t like.
• Thank you, Woody and Bailey. Writing about you, and about your deaths, was hugely therapeutic for me, and I think for some of the readers. The Bailey obit from 2013 is contained in this column.
• Thank you to the loud guy at Eagles camp in 2008. After the Favre retirement/comeback/Packers divorce/Jets comeback, I’d been writing a lot about Favre for weeks, and some guy in Bethlehem, Pa., yelled: “Hey Peter! There’s other guys than Favre in the league!” Good to hear what fans think, and not just the good things.
• Thank you, everyone else in the media and on talk radio and in social media who called me on my reporting mistakes on Deflategate and on the Ray Rice story. When we err in the media, we should be called on it, and we should admit our mistakes. When I talk to students, I often bring those up. I broke a trust you have in me. To this day, I’m chagrined over it.
• Thank you, Mike Silver and Tim Layden and Greg Bishop, for your trustworthy ears; and John Czarnecki, for your advice and counsel and friendship over 35 years.
• Thank you, Don Banks, for being my adviser-in-chief, and for talking me down from some bad ideas, and for telling me there’s another life out there, which I needed to hear. And for the 1957 Ted Williams baseball card.
• Thank you, Michael Strahan. We were town-mates for a few years in Montclair, N.J., and Strahan’s door was always open. I had no idea what he’d become, of course, but he, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Johnny Holland and Richard Sherman were the best I’ve met at explaining the complexities of defensive football. And Strahan told great football stories on top of that.
• Thank you, Paul Tagliabue, for emoting (I did see a few tears) the way all of America emoted after 9/11. Sitting in his office at the NFL four days after the towers fell, I’ll never forget Tagliabue sharing his vivid memory of walking down the streets in midtown Manhattan in the days after the event that changed us all, and smelling the acrid burning smell that wouldn’t go away in New York for days.
• Thank you, John Walsh. In the fall of 2012, I met for lunch with Walsh, one of the cornerstone editorial giants in ESPN history. He asked me if I’d ever thought of running a football website on my own, with the budgetary support of a behemoth like ESPN. No, frankly, I hadn’t, though I’d been discussing some attractive and different editorial concepts at NBC, NFL Network, and SI. I thought about the Walsh idea a lot, and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. In different ways, ideas like that one and other altogether different ones were possible at ESPN, SI and NBC. The more I talked to Paul Fichtenbaum at SI, the better such a site sounded. SI needed a jolt and a new project, and this fit well. Credit and thanks to Walsh—not just for that, but for his encouragement for years.
• Thank you, Bill Parcells. He taught me a lot about how football really works. I saw how some of his players didn’t like him treating 53 players all a little bit different. He didn’t care. He just tried to figure a way to get all 53 to play at their peak. I learned this from him: It’s not a one-size-fits-all league.
• Thank you, Mike Shanahan and Mike Martz and Matt Millen and Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff and Al Davis (yes, Al Davis), for giving me the peeks behind the curtains of the real game during my mid-career at SI. They allowed me to see drafts, game-plan meetings, team meetings (Shanahan gave me a riveting look at Saturday night Broncos team meetings before the ’05 AFC title game) and, in Davis’ case, the ability to see a little bit how his brain worked. The day before the 2004 draft, Davis showed me his office, which had four big TVs in a diamond shape on the wall opposite his desk. “Basketball, women’s basketball, baseball,” he said. “All the sports.” He loved women’s basketball. He was fascinated with UConn, how everyone was shooting at the Huskies but couldn’t take them down with any regularity. Stupidly, I tried to test Davis, who was 74.
“Got a quiz for you,” I said. “Who took Diana Taurasi with the first pick of the WNBA Draft?”
He made a noise that sounded like Pfffffft. I’m sure Amy Trask and Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden heard it a hundred times. “Oh come on,” Davis said. “That’s easy. Phoenix.”
• Thank you, Mike McGuire. I met this active-duty Army sergeant at a St. Louis Cardinals game—he had a PUJOLS jersey on—in 2005 on my training camp tour. He was here to learn some leadership skills at a nearby base before leaving for Iraq, commanding a platoon of 30 men, mostly between 18 and 21. “IED-hunting,” he told me. “Improvised Explosive Devices. Our job is to find them and neutralize them so they don’t kill people.”
Rube that I am, I asked: “I read about people dying every day because of these devices. Aren’t you scared?”
“Well,” he said, “you try not to think of that. I have 30 kids in my platoon to worry about. I’m not scared for me, really. I’m scared for those kids.” All I could think was: I’m going to watch a football practice tomorrow. This guy’s going to learn leadership skills so he can command 30 kids in the most dangerous job on earth.
We kept in touch. A year later he sent this email, from the front, with the subject line “Pray for my men, Peter—Mike McGuire:”
“How do I start off this letter? 21 Sept 2006 is burned into my mind. I was out with my 1st squad doing a regular sweep of the area when we had to dismount the vehicle and trace wires to a suspected IED. The IED exploded and wounded two of my men very bad. SPC Regusci is on his way to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington as I write this and SPC Huerta should be right behind him. The men will live but they are badly hurt and I can’t go into details because it hurts too much. Earlier in one of your Monday Morning Quarterback columns you wrote about Sgt. Bevington. Well, he did not make it from the blast. His life was claimed by the blast. It was a horrible sight to see, my men like that. And it pains me deeply. Sgt. Bevington was thought of very deeply by me and the entire platoon. This is something that I will never get over. I keep thinking how did I survive and he did not? I was only about five feet away. I feel so sorry for his family and friends. He was like a son to me. So young. I can’t explain the grief. It's devastating. He is my hero and will be missed the remainder of my days. Mike.”
That was rough. Amazing thing about McGuire: He loved sports, the Rams in particular. And we exchanged emails about them quite a bit. He could go from combat to football seamlessly. In 2008, he wrote: “I am not a real religious man but someone is looking out for me. We found an IED the other day and began to block off the area so it could be blown up in place when all of the sudden we began to take small arms fire (AK-47), which is not a big deal. That does not affect me, and we’ve taken a lot of it, but what did hit home was when the AIF (anti-Iraq forces) began to throw indirect fire (mortars) at us. They came raining down on us just like in the movies. The first round went right by my shoulder. It was so close I felt the breeze as it went by me and hit the ground. We also got ambushed by 10 or 15 insurgents firing at us. We did get some kills and a number of enemy captures. I like when we capture them, they look so terrified. I have three guys in my platoon now who have been put in for the Purple Heart. Anyway, onto the fun stuff. How about Kurt Warner???? 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, what a game! I was out on a 12-hour mission and stayed up until 3 a.m. here to watch it. And the Rams beat Denver (OH YES!) and Steven Jackson rushed for 100-plus yards. We don’t lose when we rush for 100 a game.”
Once, he told me there wasn’t much to do on the Forward Operating Bases (the pop-up bases, often in the middle of deserts) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I asked if there was something I could do, with my readers. Turns out that for $20,000 the USO could airlift in a rec hall, with weights, video games and recreation equipment. I put out a call in MMQB, asked the band “Five For Fighting” if we could use their name and ask readers for donations of $5 or more. (The band loved it and helped in the fundraising.) Your money, more than $200,000, put 10 of those recreation packages in remote areas of war zones, so our troops would have something to do on their down time.
I haven’t been in touch with McGuire for several years, and we tried to find him last week. No luck. Mike, if you’re reading this, I hope life is good with you. Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to reach out. Friends of Mike can help too. Whatever you’re doing, Mike, you made an impact on my life. Thank you.
• Thank you, changing business. (I think.) The morphing of the business into a 24/7 operation makes us better, even though it’s a total pain in the rear-end in the offseason. This is how much the business has changed: In 1996, on a Wednesday night, Brett Favre told me, and only me, the story of why he was headed into rehab the next day in Kansas. It was ugly and involved a seizure on an operating table and scarfing down more than a dozen pills at the ESPYs, and so much regret and sadness. Problem was, I had no outlet for the story of the year. No website. No TV. No radio show. So I had to wait. My story would not be out for seven full days, until the next issue of the magazine hit the stands the following Wednesday, and then in mailboxes Thursday and Friday. Amazing thing is, it held. The story hit like a firecracker, particularly in Wisconsin, with the ugly details of Favre’s addiction.
Think what would have happened 20 years later. I’d have written the story live for The MMQB, then taken another angle and written for SI, and been on 10 or 15 talk shows, and maybe the TV highlight shows and news shows … all in the first 12 to 24 hours of the story. In 1996 it held for seven days. I often complain about what’s happened in our business, because we have too much news hole to fill constantly, even in 11 weeks of dead time from the draft to the opening of camps. But we’ve gone from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age in less than 20 years. He/she who adapts wins.
• Thank you, HBO family, for six years of big-league TV experience. Way too many folks to name, but Rick Bernstein was a heck of a boss, and the instinctive Brian Hyland taught me so much about storytelling that was not the norm. Go spend a couple days walking across Tennessee with the ex-Giant, George Martin, to raise money for 9/11 first responders, Hyland told me. Sounded … weird, but I went. Best thing I did at HBO.
• Thank you, Dick Ebersol, for believing I could add something to your prime-time jewel, NBC Sunday Night Football, and for being a smart mentor. And thanks, Sam Flood and Rick Cordella, for keeping the door open for me lo these many years. Not sure exactly what the future holds, but I am excited about it.
• Thank you, Peyton Manning. More than any other player in my time covering the league, Manning understood the back-and-forth nature of our jobs. In training camp every year he’d grill me about where I’d been and who was saying what—any morsel of information that could help him even a little bit. Plus, he loved the gossip. In exchange, he knew what we wanted: colorful stories from the huddle and the field and sanitized ones from the locker room and the airplanes. He gave. One time in my life—at least that I recall—he wouldn’t help me. I was doing a story naming Manning our midseason MVP in 2009. The unbeaten Colts were headed for a midseason showdown with the Patriots. He figured it out, and our magazine, likely with him on the cover, would be out a few days before the Pats-Colts game on Nov. 15. No interview, he said. No cooperation with the story. His right, of course. But that got me a little fired up. I was going to beat the bushes to find out why Manning, with a bad running game and a beat-up line and a new head coach, was playing so great.
I found it in Qadry Ismail, who shared a story from his one year with Manning, 2002, and a game at Jacksonville.
Ismail shares what he calls a “CIA, burn-after-reading secret” out of the Indianapolis playbook from that Jaguars game. When Manning gave Ismail a shoveling motion or said the words “Crane! Crane!” Ismail would run a dig route—a curl or buttonhook in which the receiver goes downfield a certain distance, plants his foot suddenly and turns to face the quarterback. Having seen the signal a couple of times early in the game, Jacksonville corner Jason Craft then taunted Ismail. “I know what y’all are doing!” Craft hollered. “Every time he gives that [shoveling] signal, you run that little in route!”
Now, Ismail could have said, “Are you seriously challenging Peyton Manning?” Instead he told the cornerback he didn’t know what he was talking about, then told Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore on the sideline, “He's bragging like he knows what we’re doing. He’s going to jump that route!” Manning filed the information and talked with Moore about using it later in the game. Sure enough, with the ball at the Jaguars’ 12 in the third quarter, Manning told Ismail that “Crane!” would be a dummy call, and instead of the dig he should run a hitch-and-go (basically a dig, stop and sprint back upfield into the end zone). “What a simple TD,” Ismail said.
Manning, I’m told, fumed when he read that. He didn’t want his receivers—even ex-ones—to give away company secrets. That made me happy. Not that I wanted to make Manning’s job harder, but I wanted to find out real stuff that made Manning Manning.
• Thank you, to so many, for the life of The MMQB. In particular, thanks to so many who helped us peel back the curtain and see what football really is.
• Thank you, Austen Lane. The ex-Jaguars defensive end agreed to open a vein and bleed for one of our first stories ever, about getting cut. We titled it: “What It’s Like to Get Whacked.” Really proud of that one, because Lane was so perfect, and described in such vivid detail the moment GM David Caldwell gave him the news.
“Austen,” the general manager says, looking me in the eyes. “We are releasing you.”
Cue numbness. A verbal lobotomy. That’s what the words “We are releasing you” feel like. I just sit, nodding my head like a human vegetable, saying nothing. Some sentences seep into my consciousness.
“You’re a great player.”
“We just can’t see you fitting the system.”
“You’ll get a shot on another team.”
The rest … gibberish.
• Thank you, Richard Sherman. I flew to Seattle after getting the OK to found the site, and appealed to him to be the only active NFL player to write a regular column during the season. We met at a Macklemore concert, of all places. It took me 10 minutes to convince him. Sherman was exceedingly confident, and he knew this would paint him in the exact light he wanted to be seen: smart, uber-competitive football player with big hopes and dreams outside of football. He was perfect for it. In his first column he said: “I know there are people out there—fans and other players—who say, ‘Just shut up and play.’ But that's not me. Never has been, never will be. I can’t make everyone out there happy.” His columns were so him, like him or not. And he worked. The night of his Erin Andrews explosion, he wrote for us, explaining his fury.
• Thank you, Jerry Jones. More than any owner in my 34 years around pro football, Jones figured it out. He knew the game would not collapse if you open the world to see his product. In fact, it only makes the product more compelling. That’s why we wanted the first thing out of the box to be something people had never seen: a coach addressing his team at the start of training camp. And we wanted it to be the Dallas Cowboys, because they’re the Cowboys. Jones loved it. Not sure how much Jason Garrett loved it, but he was great. So good, in fact, that two teams had their coaching staffs watch how the organized and passionate Garrett went topic by topic with his team. We taped the whole thing, and the 36-minute seminar/speech was on our site the day The MMQB was born, in July 2013. Garrett on coaching: “The coaches I hate—that I had a visceral reaction to—were the guys who told me, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ … And allowing me to be as mediocre as mediocre could be. None of us need help being mediocre—especially me. Coach my ass! … You been to the Pro Bowl eight times? You’re getting your ass coached. You just got here 15 minutes ago? You’re getting your ass coached. First-round picks, free agents who signed for nothing—everybody’s getting coached.” That can’t happen unless an owner has confidence in his coach, and a vision that watching his speech will actually draw more people into loving the game.
• Thank you, Gene Steratore and (then VP of Officiating) Dean Blandino, for opening the window into what the life of an officiating crew is really like. In my 38 years as a sportswriter, I never learned so much in one week as I did trailing Steratore and his crew all over the country as they did their civilian jobs during the week and prepped for Game 150 (the name of our series), Baltimore at Chicago. The time was fortuitous, because that’s the week the Steratore crew was recovering from a rough game, Houston at Arizona, when the officials made mistakes and likely took Steratore out of contention to ref the Super Bowl. Memorable moment: Wednesday, in back judge Dino Paganelli’s AP History class in Wyoming, Mich., watching him teaching for 50 minutes and challenging smart kids … then going home to his house, where the widower is raising three kids. And doing homework on the Bears and Ravens for two to three hours at night. My favorite story in five years running The MMQB.
• Thank you, Stevie Brown. The Giants’ safety tore his ACL early in 2013, and he and renowned surgeon James Andrews let Jenny Vrentas of our staff inside the operating theater to see the repair. So many stories like this … I can’t pick them all. But this was so enlightening about the surgery and the healing and the athlete questioning his future.
• Thank you, Carson Palmer, for illuminating a quarterback’s game week to me, starting when the game plan landed in Palmer’s email box Tuesday around dinnertime. If the ref week was one, this 2015 quarterback week before Arizona played Cleveland was two.
After an hour or so buried in the game plan diagrams, Palmer matter-of-factly said something that does not sound matter-of-fact when the words are spoken.
“I’m freaking out right now,” Palmer said, eyes buried in his notepad. “I have so much to do. But I’m weird. I’ll get it done, I always do. And I’ll get it done with plenty of time and I will feel fantastic on Friday. I’ll know what I am doing versus every possible Cleveland pressure. If we get that pressure we will gash that.
“I know this is weird, but I love the feeling of, ‘Man, I have so much s--- to do and it’s already Tuesday and I’m a day behind.’ Does that make any sense? It’s not challenging to the point where I feel it’s too much, but it’s challenging to the point where, man, I just love it.”
Arizona 34, Cleveland 20. Palmer was money. What a rewarding week that was. I remember walking out of Cleveland Browns Stadium after that game, feeling like I was flying. I was so happy, because I knew the story would be so interesting.
• Thank you to those in and around the league whose foresight and trust allowed us to do special reporting and projects: owner Robert Kraft of the Patriots, DeMaurice Smith and George Atallah of the NFL Players Association, commissioner Roger Goodell and schedulemeister Howard Katz of the NFL, Mike Tannenbaum of the Dolphins, John Mara of the Giants, president Rich McKay of the Falcons, Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, Saints coach Sean Payton, Hall of Fame VP Joe Horrigan, GMs John Schneider, Howie Roseman, Rick Spielman, Chris Ballard, John Dorsey, Mickey Loomis, Jason Light, Les Snead, Steve Keim and John Lynch, coaches Andy Reid, Dan Quinn, Sean McVay, Anthony Lynn, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin (excellent with our young staffers), Ron Rivera, Kyle Shanahan, Mike McCarthy and Todd Bowles.
• Thank you, Doug Pederson. By sharing so much interesting X’s-and-O’s stuff from the playoffs last year, and doing it humbly, Pederson taught so many football nerds and casual football fans that, with hard work and imagination, all things are possible … even beating the great Belichick in the Super Bowl.
• Thank you, Dan Rooney. The late Steelers owner always was the conscience of the league. On so many matters, Rooney was my first call to figure out what just happened.
• Thank you to those who have made The MMQB work: Greg Bedard, Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko and Andy Benoit (average age: 28) in year one, with Andrew Brandt writing a weekly business of football column … with Mark Mravic, Matt Gagne, Tom Mantzouranis and Dom Bonvissuto editing, John DePetro shooting and editing video, and Andy DeGory as staff assistant. Richard Deitsch, Andy Staples, Don Banks and Jim Trotter chipped in with smart regular columns too. The hunger, the aggressiveness, the want-to of the writers, the ideas. I will never be able to properly thank them for birthing this thing. Adding Albert Breer, Tim Rohan, Emily Kaplan, Jonathan Jones, Conor Orr and Jacob Feldman to write, and Gary Gramling to write and edit, and Bette Marston to plan and edit, and Kalyn Kahler to write and organize our lives, have been vital to our mission. Mravic has been crucial in the last couple of years, taking on more of the lead editor role—mainly because he’s better at it than I was.
That is giving all of those people too little credit for what we have become, and what we will be going forward. I am supremely confident that those left to carry on the mission of distinctive and thoughtful football reporting will do so exceedingly well. I know a few of the projects they’re working on right now, and you’re going to be thrilled to experience them in the coming months. You know what else I'm proud of? A diverse staff that I would not trade for any staff in sports media.
One of the things that fills me with pride is the way our writers and editors work. They care so much about doing the job right. I don’t think Jenny Vrentas owns a clock. How often we’ve talked at odd hours, and how often I’ve talked to Klemko and Benoit and Breer and Rohan and now Conor Orr—unless it’s 6 in the morning or 11 at night, I never think I’m bothering them. They want it so bad. It’s emotional just to think about their drive, their desire to be great.
One more story.
• Thank you, Tom Brady. But this is a story about The MMQB as much as it’s a nod to Brady for giving up an afternoon of his vacation after the Super Bowl comeback from 25 points down to beat Atlanta in February 2017.
I asked Brady if he could spare one hour the week after the game, while his memory was fresh, to tell the story of the comeback of comebacks. He said okay, and we agreed to meet early Sunday afternoon, seven days after the game, at Brady’s hideaway in Montana. After I landed in Montana, on the one-hour drive to see Brady, Mravic and I talked, and he thought I should break this into two parts. Just too much stuff there. He said Chris Stone, the big boss, feels that way too. It didn’t feel right to me, but one thing I’ve learned in five years on this team is this: Listening is something I was bad at when I started the site in 2013. I think I’ve gotten better. This time I heard Mravic and Stone, and they were right—it would be a mistake to lead my Monday column with a 9,000-word Brady opus. Better to break it into two pieces, which would allow me to not just mash out an important story in a few hours. I would do a two-part series and if I was lucky enough, a long podcast with Brady as well.
So I got Brady, and recorded him for 86 minutes, a piece that will always seem to me as the first time I heard Brady not be press-conference Tom. And I’ll always be appreciative of Brady giving up his time and being so frank on so many subjects that day. He was great.
I was driving away … and thought, I’ve got all this tape of an interview to get transcribed. How would I do that? I called two of my backbones, Kalyn Kahler and Emily Kaplan, and asked for their help. I hardly had to ask. Down the mountain from Brady, I stopped in some little town and got WiFi, and sent the entire 86 minutes, at 5:15 p.m. Eastern. Emily and Kalyn divvied it up. By 10 ET that night, in time for me to write for Monday, Kalyn and Emily, who had dropped everything, had the transcriptions to me—18,000 words’ worth. No money. No overtime. They just cared enough about a story to give up their Sundays to work for the team. I’ll remember that experience with Brady on a mountain in Montana for a long time. I’ll remember the selflessness of the team longer. All of us who have been sportswriters understand the business: We’re essentially independent contractors. It’s almost always up to us and us alone—which makes the times we’ve teamed together so rewarding to me. Kahler, Kaplan, Mravic, Stone … all played a big part in that day.
And so a great core will live on, and will bring you the smartest and most distinctive pro football coverage in the world. I’m so proud I got a chance to work with such a great group.
• Thank you, fact-checkers and writers and editors at SI, and the business team led by Danny Lee, and the web team led by Mark McClusky and Ryan Hunt and Ben Eagle, and so many others at the magazine and SI.com and the web world to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. You worked as hard as I did to make this idea work. I so admire your dedication.
• Thank you, The MMQB.
Quotes of a Career
“Hi. Ah’m Johnny Cash. Welcome to Nashville.’’
—The Man in Black, to me, in June 1989, shaking my hand after I descended the stairs of a private plane in Nashville. I was on my first assignment with Sports Illustrated, with a delegation of former NFL employees led by ex-Cowboy boss Tex Schramm, looking for teams for the nascent World League of American Football.
“I’m gonna go home and kill myself, Tommy. Will you read the eulogy at the service?”
—Atlanta Braves outfielder Deion Sanders, frustrated, after popping out against Pirates knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in a hitless day on Aug. 16, 1992, to pitcher Tom Glavine in the Atlanta dugout. This was the season Sanders went back and forth between the Braves and the Falcons, and was feeling pressure to stay with the Falcons full-time.
“I’ll never wash these shoes again.”
—Agent Leigh Steinberg, in the back of a limo with Super Bowl MVP Steve Young, after Young threw up a red stream, much of it Gatorade, all over Steinberg’s shoes on the way from the stadium in Miami to the 49ers’ hotel after their 49-26 win over San Diego. The puke splashed onto my shoes as well.
“I’m 26 years old, I just threw 38 touchdown passes in one year, and I’m the NFL MVP. People look at me and say, ‘I’d love to be that guy.’ But if they knew what it took to be that guy, they wouldn’t love to be him, I can guarantee you that. I’m entering a [drug-] treatment center tomorrow. Would they love that?”
—Reigning NFL MVP Brett Favre, to me, over the phone in May 1996, the night before he went to a rehab center in Kansas to beat his addiction to Vicodin.
“I think the internet is like television in 1948, with infinite potential. The internet is going to completely change the way commerce is done in the world.”
—New England owner Robert Kraft.
“It’s like a trip through the inside of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s brain.”
—Paul Zimmerman, watching the Walt Disney-produced halftime show at the Rams-Titans Super Bowl in Atlanta.
“I like the Colts. We have something in common: We both defected in the middle of the night.”
—Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, to USA Today.
“Hey, who’s gonna take Vince Young on Saturday?”
—President George W. Bush, a Texas Longhorns fan, to rookie Saints coach Sean Payton, two days before the 2006 NFL draft, during a Habitat for Humanity building project in the Katrina-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Said Payton: “Wish I knew, sir.”
“It’s my hair, and I have nothing negative to say about it.”
—Mel Kiper Jr., owner of a fabulous bouffant.
“It was such a bad pick I thought Al Davis made it.”
—Chris Rock, when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
“Tell Peter King we already got our two wins.”
—Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, after the Bucs won their second game of the season to go 2-0. I picked them to go 2-14. They went 10-6.
“Typing with your fingers is so 2012.”
—Steve Gleason, stricken with ALS, on communicating with a special program that allowed him to use his eyes to compose words in emails and texts.
“I used to drink five gallons of milk a week until my girlfriend made me stop. I figured, milk’s healthy. I assured my family now I would drink only two gallons a week. Monday, after we saw the Colts, it was maybe 9:45 at night, and I went to a supermarket and purchased a half-quart of milk and drank it in the parking lot. I felt like an alcoholic.”
—Andy Benoit of The MMQB, on our training-camp trip.
“I sat on the Gatorade coolers on our sideline, and Brett limped over to sit next to me. I didn’t know what to say to him; I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. I could tell he felt the interception cost us the game and season. I could also sense that he envisioned the story of that year—at 40 years old, he was having his best season—was going to be summed up by that one play. A play that never really should have happened in the ﬁrst place. He had played almost ﬂawless football, fighting like it was life or death to him, and this is the way it was going to end. We sat there for a few moments in silence. The referees and team captains went out for the coin toss to start overtime, and I got up to see who won possession. Brett didn’t even bother. He didn’t have the energy, and I think he was still in shock from the interception. After the Saints won the toss, I walked back over and sat next to him. He turned to me and said, ‘I choked.’ I paused for a second and said, ‘Brett, you are the most amazing football player I’ve ever seen. It has been an unreal experience to watch you play this year.’ I can’t really describe the look he gave me, but I can tell those words meant something to him.”
—Sage Rosenfels, the former backup quarterback for the Vikings, writing for The MMQB, relating the story from the 2009 NFC Championship Game, when Brett Favre threw an interception at the end of the fourth quarter, leading to the Saints’ win in overtime. New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl. Favre never played in another playoff game.
“For far too long the NFL has been sitting on its hands doing nothing while an entire population of Americans has been denigrated. How long will the NFL continue to do nothing—zero—as one of its teams bears a name that inflicts so much pain on Native Americans?”
—U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on the Senate floor, on the “Redskins” name.
"Three months after I retired, I was in Vegas for a fight, and they were announcing the celebrities in the audience. Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods, Dr. Dre, and the audience was just cheering loudly, and they announce my name as a celebrity and the whole MGM Grand just booed and hissed, and that of course had happened to me before, playing football. That's how it is. But I always had this armor on and for whatever reason that night, I was filleted and displayed to everybody. This wasn’t like, Oh, we don't like him as a football player because he played for the team we didn’t like, but this was actually about like, we don’t like him as a human being. And sure enough, that night an acquaintance of mine offered me some Vicodin, and I was going to be walking in and out of rooms that night where there were Hall of Famers and Super Bowl champions, and I just always felt less than and judged in front of those men. And he gave me those pills and I walked in and out of those parties the rest of the night and I didn’t feel any of that. It killed that pain, and it would become a crutch of mine. That simultaneously was killing me as well as giving me this relief for the next eight years.”
—Former NFL quarterback and recovering addict Ryan Leaf, on “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King.”
Stats of a Career
(Upon the firing of Colts coach Ron Meyer)
In his last 72 games as a head coach, Ron Meyer went 36-36. In his last 72 games, Chuck Noll is 36-36.
The budget for the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff, all coaches, is $2.4 million. Sixteen NFL head coaches made more this season.
Pretty good bargain for Minnesota. The Vikings made the playoffs, and won a playoff game, making it to the NFL’s final eight.
Philadelphia linebacker Ernie Sims went 1,000 days between wins.
True fact: The last time Sims played in a game for a winning team before Sunday’s 35-32 triumph over Detroit was Dec. 23, 2007, when the Lions, his original team, beat Kansas City. Since then, he was 0-1 in 2007, 0-16 in 2008, 0-11 in 2009, and 0-1 this year with the Eagles. That’s a personal 29-game losing streak for Sims. “Wow,” Sims told me after the game from the Eagles’ locker room. “I never sat down and figured that out.”
Well, who would? I would—eight days followed the win in 2007, 366 (a leap year) in 2008, 365 in 2009, and 261 days preceded Sunday in 2010 … an even 1,000.
“To be honest with you,” Sims said, “it did feel like a long time, but not that long. Not 1,000 days.”
Regarding the passing of Earl Morrall (on April 25, 2014):
Morrall should go down in history as one of the best handful (three, four?) of backup quarterbacks in the 94-season history of the NFL. This stat should prove that: Morrall started 35 regular-season games due to injuries to Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese in Baltimore and Miami between 1968 and 1972. His record in those 35 games: 31-3-1.
A Commencement Speech I Loved
From 2015, here’s a section of Alex Smith’s address to University of Utah grads:
“It’s been almost 10 years to the day that I graduated from the U and I’ve had many ups and downs over the course of that time, and there are really three concepts that I’ve learned and relied on over those years. One: Identify my weaknesses. Two: Embrace the new. Three: Let go of what I cannot control.
“When I graduated from Utah, I was headed into the biggest job interview of my life, the NFL draft. As you can imagine, I wanted so badly to impress; I wanted to be perfect. I tried to be the perfect draft prospect. In my meetings with the coaches and the executives, I tried to be the perfect interview. At the combine and at my workouts, I tried to be the perfect player. I tried to promote my strengths and conceal my weaknesses and on paper, I kind of succeeded; I was the first pick in the draft. And with that, I inherited this big shiny trophy that I carried around and it had one word engraved on it: anxiety. You see, the problem was, and this is the point, I felt like I had to be perfect to justify my draft status. I became my own worst enemy. I constantly stressed for others’ approval and worried about what they were thinking. I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes and then, when I did make a mistake, I agonized over it; this became a paralyzing cycle. I became cautious. I was tentative. My entire mindset became, ‘Don’t screw up.’ Literally, I would tell myself, ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t throw an incompletion. Don’t throw an interception. Don’t fumble. Don’t drop the snap.’
“I recently had the opportunity to hang out with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. One thing really stuck with me. It was how much time Georges and his team spent evaluating his own weaknesses. I’d always imagined that they spent all their time and energy focusing on their next opponent, a lot like we do in football; instead, Georges spends his time targeting his own weaknesses. He isn’t insecure about his abilities or who he is, instead, he’s honest with himself and he embraces the challenge of his own shortcomings.
“We can never fully plan our future. How many of you graduates know what you want to do today for the rest of your lives? I know I didn’t when I got my diploma and that’s really okay. I encourage you all to embrace what life throws at you, no matter how uncomfortable or daunting it might seem. Let’s all have the courage to walk across the room and make a connection. Coach [Urban] Meyer used to always tell us this, ‘If what you want is different than what you have, then you need to change what you are doing.’ It’s actually something I tell myself, every time that little voice in my head tries to get me to take the easy way out.”
Factoids of a Career That May Interest Only Me
Attorney Larry Derryberry represented the owner, coach and personnel director of the Cowboys: Jerry Jones, Barry Switzer and Larry Lacewell. The foursome once dined together.
Imagine them introducing themselves to each other, had they been strangers. “Jerry, this is Larry Derryberry. Larry, meet Barry and Larry. Barry, Larry. Jerry, Barry. Larry, Jerry.”
One of Boomer Esiason’s best friends, Timmy O’Brien, died in the terror attacks on 9/11. Esiason was asked to give the eulogy at O’Brien’s funeral. O’Brien was a big Giants’ fan, and his hero was Phil Simms. Esiason donned a Simms Giants jersey for the eulogy in a packed church.
Bill Parcells and Hank Aaron have one thing in common: Both homered off Al Downing, Parcells in an American Legion game in high school in Trenton, N.J., Aaron with his 715th big-league home run to break Babe Ruth’s longstanding record.
The complete outgoing message on Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson’s cell phone: “Yeah.”
Rookie Green Bay offensive lineman Daryn Colledge grew up on South Santa Claus Lane in North Pole, Alaska. His hometown was a 36-hour drive from the nearest NFL city, Seattle. He had road trips as long as seven hours on buses for high school football games, and he’d see moose, caribou and bears on the way to those games.
Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson wore a size 17 shoe at age 10.
The Giants have named Snausages the official dog snack of the team.
The 28th pick in the 1987 draft was Mark Ingram. The 28th pick in the 2011 draft was his son, Mark Ingram.
The first inter-racial roommates on the Virginia Tech Hokies football team, in the fall of 1970:
Freshman quarterback Bruce Arians, from New Jersey. (Future NFL coach of the year.)
Freshman running back J.B. Barber, from Virginia. (Future dad of Tiki and Ronde Barber.)
Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson signed a five-year, $70 million contract extension on July 29, with a signing bonus of $15,361,000. The bonus came in a lump-sum check, not direct-deposited.
He has not cashed the bonus check yet.
He told me, “I just haven’t gotten around to it.”
Number of enshrinees in the last nine Hall of Fame classes, including the 2015 class: 60.
Number of quarterbacks enshrined in the last nine Hall of Fame classes: zero.
The last game of Bill Belichick’s rookie coaching season in Cleveland in 1991 was the last game of Chuck Noll’s coaching career.
I covered the game, wondering if we’d hear Noll say afterward that he was finished. He didn’t. It was a dreadful affair—Steelers 17, Browns 10—and one of the only things I remember was a sign on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter: HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM CHUCK AND MARIANNE NOLL.
Larry Fitzgerald, who has played 14 NFL seasons, has had his best regular seasons in years 12, 13 and 14, with 109, 107 and 109 catches. He’ll play a 15th year in 2018.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of a Career
If Jimmy Johnson drove his boat 81 miles due south from his front yard in the Florida Keys, he would dock in Havana.
The taxes on my hotel bill in July 2002 in Houston:
• 3.6 percent Texas Legislature surcharge on two phone calls.
• 6 percent state occupancy tax.
• 7 percent city occupancy tax.
• 2 percent county occupancy tax.
• 2 percent “sport occupancy” tax, to fund Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium.
I was actually hired to go to a fantasy football convention in Red Wing, Minn., to dispense advice in August. I told the fans that if they couldn’t get one of the stud quarterbacks, solve your running back and receiver needs first, then wait and get Washington’s Danny Wuerffel, who would have a good year playing in Steve Spurrier’s offense.
“You’re smoking crack!” a guy yelled.
On my Continental puddle-jumper from Newark to Providence last week to do a Patriots story for HBO, the man in front of me passed gas uncontrollably, constantly, and without any shame throughout the flight. After about 15 minutes of this, the man across the aisle looked at the Wall Street Journal-reading farter and said: “Do you think you might be able to control that?”
“Control what?” Mr. Fart said.
“The farting,” Mr. Across-the-Aisle-But-Speaking-for-Everyone said.
“Jesus,” Mr. Fart said, sounding apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
But he couldn’t stop, and we suffered with the acrid fumes for most of the 47-minute flight.
On our training-camp trip last week, The MMQB team had time to work out at a Planet Fitness in Louisville. I’ve never been to one. A couple of observations: They spell “judgment” wrong. They insert an “e,” and make it “judgement,’’ as in “No Judgement Here.” They’re trying to say that if you’re overweight, it’s fine—just come in and work out and get started on a healthy path. Cool. Two things: the spelling, and scales. I wanted to weigh myself at the end of the workout Sunday. No scales in the men’s locker room. I went to the front desk and asked the fellow where I might find a scale. “We don’t have scales,” he said. “This is a judgment-free zone.” Those were his words.
Dallas Cowboys camp. Oxnard, Calif. Who walks into PR man Rich Dalrymple’s office but Tommy Lasorda. Lasorda loves Jason Garrett. Garrett tells Lasorda to tell me the story about Sandy Koufax.
Here’s the windup, and the pitch, from Lasorda, the former little lefty pitcher in the Dodger system.
“[In 1954] I have a godd--- good spring training with the Dodgers, trying to make the ball club. We go into Brooklyn to open the season and I get a call from Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager, to come to his office. I walk in and he said, ‘Tommy, I’ve got a problem.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter Buzzie? One of your relatives sick?’ He said, ‘No, I have to send somebody out. I have to cut one guy out of this ball club, Tommy.’ I said, ‘You didn’t bring me in here to tell me that! No! I won 17 games in f---ing Triple-A last year! What do I have to do to show you I can pitch here? You’re going to keep Koufax over me? No!! He’s a f---ing guy who can’t throw a ball and hit a f---ing barn door! And you’re going to keep him over me?!’ He said, ‘Look Tommy, you’ve gotta go.’ So, I went. So like I say, it took the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball to knock me off of that Brooklyn team. That was my claim to fame.”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think there’s something exciting, at 60, about changing lives.
2. I think the most-asked question to me over the last couple of weeks is something like this: How emotional is this for you? A bit, but you'd be surprised. I'm not very emotional about it, honestly, because I know it’s time. I know how good the people are who will write for the site and the magazine, and it's their time to do some of the big things I've done for a long time. They deserve it, and they’re ready for it, and they’ll shine at it. Those aren’t just words. I'd put my right hand on the Bible right now and swear that’s the truth. When I got to this great place, I was a week shy of 32. I couldn’t do then what Jenny Vrentas and Robert Klemko and Albert Breer can do now. The other thing I feel strongly about is that this time comes for all of us. There's no reason why I should hang on here for years because it's convenient, or comfortable, or this is where I feel most at home, or this is where I can make the most money. I'm a firm believer that the next generation will be better (if it works hard) than the last generation. I fully expect those who follow me to eclipse whatever it is that I accomplished. It's the way the world works. I love my peers. I'll be rooting for them for the rest of my life.
3. I think I’ve never been a prediction guy, as you well know. These are my favorite predictions of my SI career:
• From April 1999: “Indianapolis will rue the day it passed on Ricky Williams to choose Edgerrin James in the first round of the draft.”
• From January 2000: “I think Miami has a chance Saturday at Jacksonville, a real chance.” Jags 62, Dolphins 7, the biggest rout in AFC playoff history.
• From October 2000: “That new Larry David show on HBO, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ might be the next ‘Seinfeld.’” Hey! I almost hit one!
• From April 2003: “I think in New England, it won’t be long before Dan Klecko is as beloved as Tedy Bruschi.”
• From September 2010: I picked a Green Bay-Pittsburgh Super Bowl. Green Bay and Pittsburgh met in the Super Bowl.
• From September 2011: I picked a San Diego-Atlanta Super Bowl. Neither won a playoff game.
4. I think I think right about now: Who would listen to a word I said?
5. I think I won’t have a chance to write my book suggestions for Fathers Day (though I may do a few on Twitter before Fathers Day), but I would recommend “Beartown,” by Fredrik Backman. (H/T to Angie Six, friend of MMQB, for the wonderful idea here.) It’s a novel about a little town desperate to win a junior hockey championship, with all the drama inherent to small towns and desperado hockey players and coaches. Loved it.
6. I think these are a couple of Coffeenerdnesses I’ve liked:
a. Coffeenerdness, 2000: The Center City Starbucks in Philadelphia charges 65 cents for a sesame bagel and 75 cents for a plain bagel. That would mean, logically, that 100 sesame seeds cost minus 10 cents.
b. Coffeenerdness, 2005: At the 7-Eleven in Fort Myers, Fla., I sensed the American coffee craze might have gotten out of control. Strawberry-Banana Coffee was on sale.
7. I think these are four Beernerdness notes I enjoyed:
a. 2016, Anderson, Ind., Colts camp. I see Andrew Luck, who says: “Hey, I love beernerdness.” And he gives me a couple of places to try. “The Indiana beer scene is crazy.” Agreed: 3 Floyds, Upland (particularly Upland Wheat) and my personal favorite, Sun King. Great spots.
b. 2017, Boston. Mystic Table Beer: What a beer list at Eastern Standard, the restaurant around the corner and just down the street from Fenway Park. Peerless. Mystic Table Beer (Mystic Brewery, Chelsea, Mass.) was my choice, a saison, and it didn’t disappoint. Very flavorful, easy to drink, with a slight citrus and light-alcohol (4.3 percent) taste and feel. Delicious.
c. 2016, North Carolina. Appalachian Mountain Boone Creek Blonde: I hit a home run for my Thanksgiving beer. A grand slam. On a recent walk through the Charlotte airport (I love that airport and a couple of the restaurants), I found a checkout at one of the restaurants that allows you to buy Carolina beers. Well, hello. So there was a tall boy in the case from Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone, N.C., a beer called Boone Creek Blonde. And was that one great beer. This is good too, on the side of the can: “Proceeds from every can support the revitalization of our mountains and rivers.”
d. 2016, Zanesville, Ohio. Weasel Boy Mango Wheat: Driving from Latrobe, Pa., to Cincinnati after Steelers practice, I thought going halfway would be about right. Halfway was Zanesville, Ohio, on I-70. My videographer, John DePetro, and I made it known on Twitter that we were stopping in Zanesville for the evening, and two folks tweeted back that we should stop at Weasel Boy Brewing, a brewpub in an out-of-the-way old brick building in the city. Of course, we did; who can turn down the chance to try a good Mango Wheat at such a distinctive-sounding place? A charming, homey pub, where the locals have their own ceramic beer mugs, made in Zanesville, and the bartender, Andie, washes them out between each serving.”
e. Thanks to Harpoon Brewery in Boston for inventing an MMQB Saison in 2014. Now that was cool. And tasty.
8. I think next Monday in this space (it’s Memorial Day), you’ll see my favorite stories from a 29-year career. Got any you’ve loved and want me to keep in mind as I cull down the number to something reasonable? Send me your favorites this week at email@example.com
9. I think I’ve said this a few times, but just so you know: Find me starting July 16 at NBC Sports digital platforms. My column will continue every Monday for 46 weeks a year. I’ll be doing one morning of radio with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live on NBC Sports Radio, and I’ll be contributing to the Sunday night “Football Night in America” show. Follow me on Twitter (I’ll have a new handle in June) for all the pertinent details.
10. I think you’ve been a great audience, an unforgettable audience. Please know that you’ve made this the greatest career a writer could ever have.
The Adieu Haikus
From September 2012
So long, Steve Sabol.
Do those slo-mo spirals look
as good from up there?
From January 2013
Ray Lewis, all game:
Screaming, break-dancing, tackling.
I bet he sleeps well.
From August 2014
Jags coach Gus Bradley
could sub for Tony Robbins.
The man can inspire
From August 2015
Tom Brady in court.
Court. Not a practice field.
Such a dumb August.
From May 2017
Blaine Gabbert’s a Cardinal.
Don’t like it. One bit.
From May 21, 2018 ... this morning
Five great years. Time to hand off.
Life goes on. -30-
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